CONFORMITY TO CHRIST
“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren.” [Romans 8:29]
What an amazing statement is that! Certainly one which no mortal mind had ever thought of inventing. That some out of the fallen descendants of Adam should be not only saved from their sins and delivered from the wrath to come — but decreed by God to be made like that blessed One in whom His soul delights! That is the climax of grace, for it is not possible to confer a greater or higher favor upon its chosen subjects. That DEPRAVED creatures should yet become replicas of the Holy One — that WORMS of the earth should be fashioned after the Lord of glory — passes finite comprehension, yet faith receives and love adores.
What does this “conformity” consist of? Summarizing the teaching of the New Testament thereon, we may say it is a SPIRITUAL, a PRACTICAL, an EXPERIENTIAL, and a PHYSICAL one. A line must not be drawn too sharply between those distinctions, for they shade off the one into the other.
The SPIRITUAL conformity begins at our regeneration;
the PRACTICAL conformity has to do with our sanctification;
the EXPERIENTIAL conformity concerns our mortification; and
the PHYSICAL conformity will not be effected until our glorification.
SPIRITUAL conformity to Christ. Before there can be any real conformity to Christ outwardly — there must be an INWARD one of nature, as we must first “live in the Spirit” — before we can “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25).
At regeneration, the spiritual image of Christ is stamped upon the soul, and He is “formed” in the heart — the “new man” (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) being created after His likeness. The members are of the same nature as the head: the LIFE of Christ must be imparted to us — before there can be any communion with or conformity to Him. “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16) — that is grace communicated to us corresponding in nature to the grace of which He is full.
That initial spiritual conformity is continued throughout the Christian’s life on earth: he is renewed in the inner man day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). It is both his privilege and duty to become increasingly Christlike in his character and conduct. That you “may grow up into him in all things” (Eph 4:15) is to be our ceaseless aim and endeavour. We are enjoined, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) — as the soldier does his uniform — evidencing by our daily deportment that we serve under his banner.
We are required to express or “show forth” His virtues (1 Peter 2:9, margin), making it manifest that He indwells us. Said the apostle, “Be followers [or ‘imitators’] of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Our bearing the NAME of Christ is justified, only so far as we display His PERFECTIONS.
Christ not only lives FOR His people, but IN them (Gal 2:20); and HE cannot “be hidden” (Mar 7:24). Christ died for them — and they are to die unto sin, self, the world. It is by their conformity unto Christ, that His followers are distinguished from empty professors.
This spiritual and inward conformity to Christ, is promoted by our regular use of appropriate means. “But we all [regenerate souls], with open face [in contrast with the veiled Jews — verses 13-16] beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord — we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The “mirror” in which the “glory of the Lord” is seen is the SCRIPTURES. That glory is “beheld” by faith, for FAITH is the EYE OF THE SPIRIT — as it is by our physical eyes, we take in light from the sun. As the regenerated soul is believingly and adoringly occupied with that wondrous “glory,” — he is “changed into the same image”: not completely so in a moment, but GRADUALLY and PROGRESSIVELY “from glory to glory.” Not by any effort or striving of ours, but “by the Spirit,” whose office it is first to UNITE us to Christ and then to make us LIKE Him.
The closer COMMUNION we have with the Lord Jesus, the nearer AFFILIATION shall we have to Him. As faith feeds upon Him who gives us His own flesh to eat, we become assimilated to Him spiritually. The more we are affected by His love, the more we shall strive to please Him. “Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord — we are changed into the same image.” The figure is taken from the mirrors used by the ancients, which, unlike ours, were made of highly polished METAL. For their use, a brilliant light was required; and as it fell upon the mirror, not only did the person see in it his countenance, but upon his face was reflected the glow from the metal: if the mirror was of brass or gold, the reflection would be yellow; if silver, white. And as faith is occupied with the person of Christ and the Spirit shines upon our hearts — His perfections are reproduced in us.
We cannot bask long in the presence of the “Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2) without our reflecting His beams. As Moses descended from the mount after forty days’ converse with Jehovah, “the skin of his face shone” (Exo 34:30). The more the saint is in Christ’s company — the more is he assimilated unto His likeness.
PRACTICAL conformity to Christ, in our conduct, is furthered by our following the example He has left us (1 Peter 2:21). One of the great ends for which God sent His Son into the world in our nature, was that He might reveal to us through His life in this scene how we should conduct ourselves acceptably unto God. In Christ, the divine ideal of manhood has been realized. All the original goodness (Gen 1:31) of human nature has been exercised and exemplified to the glory of God in the perfect life of Christ. As all colors meet in the rainbow — so ALL VIRTUES AND EXCELLENCIES MEET IN CHRIST. He is a perfect and glorious pattern of all graces. Not so the most eminent saints. The best of their graces and the highest of their attainments were marred by blots and failures.
Christ is “altogether lovely” (Song 5:16) the Lamb “without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). In His LIFE — we behold the Law translated into concrete terms, and its requirements set before us by personal representation. In His DEPORTMENT — we have a clear display of what practical holiness consists of. In His LIFE — Christ has exhibited what He requires from His followers: “He who says he abides in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6). As one of the lesser-known Puritans expressed it, “Christ is the sun, and all the watches of our lives should be set by the dial of His motions.”
A Christian is one who has renounced his own will and wisdom as the rule of his actions — and has surrendered to the scepter of Christ to be governed by Him. He teaches both by PRECEPT and EXAMPLE. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” (Mat 11:29) is His requirement, and compliance therewith is to be the business of our lives. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phi 2:5). We are to learn from Christ’s CONDUCT, as well as His COUNSELS — that holy obedience to God’s will may mark us in all things. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John [not their ‘sweetness,’ but their uncompromising fidelity, their loyalty at all costs] — they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Act 4:13)!
“Then Jesus said unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mat 16:24). The “cross” stands for self-sacrifice, a life yielded up to God; and it is not LAID upon the disciple, but voluntarily “taken up” by him, so that he may be “made conformable unto his death” (Phi 3:10) — dying daily unto sin.
There must be an EXPERIMENTAL conformity unto Christ IN SUFFERING. The members of Christ’s body share, in their measure, the experiences of their Head; and they do so in proportion as they follow the EXAMPLE which He has left them. As the world hated Christ — so it hates those who bear His image. It was the unregenerate religious world which most fiercely opposed Him, and sufficient for the disciple to be as his Master. The closer we follow Him, the more shall we bring down upon ourselves the hostility of Satan: “But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of CHRIST’S sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13).
“But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2) — there is the blessed CONSUMMATION.
CHOSEN in Christ,
CALLED to Christ,
COMMUNING with Christ,
fully CONFORMED to Christ!
As God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son SPIRITUALLY, PRACTICALLY, and EXPERIENTIALLY — so also PHYSICALLY: for at His return, Christ “shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phi 3:21). Nothing short of ENTIRE conformity will satisfy the desires of God for His elect! “As we have borne the image of the earthy — we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Corinthians 15:49). But conformity to Christ will not be consummated in Heaven — unless it has been commenced on earth!
There must be REGENERATION, SANCTIFICATION, and MORTIFICATION — before there is GLORIFICATION. Christ was humiliated on earth — before He was exalted in Heaven. Just so with us — the CROSS precedes the CROWN.